What Does A Lawyer Do?

Written by Troy Marsh |

I was in my late 20’s before I acknowledged that the law was my true calling.  Up to that point in my life, my only experience dealing with a real lawyer in a real law office came during my tenure as a procurement forester, when my loggers had inadvertently crossed a property line and cut seven spindly trees on the adjoining land.  A more accurate description would have been seven twigs, each about three inches in diameter and ten feet tall, with sparse leafy material.  Scrubby bushes, at best.

The landowner was hopping mad.  The landowner said those gnarly twigs were his favorite trees.  He loved those trees.  He wanted his daughter to have those trees after he died.  He wanted the big paper company to pay him big money for those trees, plus money for his emotional distress and pain and suffering.  The trees had no commercial value beyond pulpwood, mind you.  The fair market value of the seven trees, on the best day, was no more than $10.00.  Nevertheless, wanting a solid legal opinion to rely on, my supervisor and I sought advice from a wise lawyer known by many and respected by all.

readingThe lawyer’s office was in an old, Victorian building that looked a lot like somebody’s home.  The inside smelled a bit like my grandmother’s house with just a hint of stale cigar smoke.  Shelves filled with hundreds of books lined the walls. We sat around a mahogany conference table that must have been twenty feet long.  The old man listened patiently as I explained in great detail about how the property line was unclear, that the line had not been surveyed in over one hundred years, and that the trees at issue barely qualified as trees at all.  I concluded with a simple question, “So, how much do we really have to pay him?”  I sat on the edge of my seat, eager to hear the golden nuggets of legal wisdom spring forth from the old man’s mouth.  Instead, what he said was, “I have no idea, but I will be glad to research the law and give you my opinion.”  “My hourly rate is five gazillion dollars,” or some other number that sounded astronomical to me, “and I require a retainer of two zillion dollars up front.”  “I can have you a written opinion in about two weeks.”

Um…did I hear that right??  Did that man just say that he has no idea??  You mean to tell me that this old fart went to law school, passed the Bar exam, practiced law for umpteen dozen years and still doesn’t know the answer to a simple question, one he must have heard a million times before??  Why does he need two weeks to answer a stupid question??  What is going on here??

Well, that was about thirty years ago, and now I understand.  I understand why lawyers are paid for their time.  I understand why lawyers often do not know the “answer” to questions posed by clients and potential clients.  I understand why it can take two weeks, or longer, to deliver a written legal opinion.  It all makes sense to me now, but it took three years of law school and years of practicing law before I saw the light.  Maybe my experience will help you understand a little better what lawyers actually do.


Below is a list of things I did on a random Tuesday, a “typical” work day.  The list below comes from my actual time sheet that I kept on that Tuesday.  It could have been a Monday or a Thursday.  I just picked a random Tuesday.  The Tuesday before, I did different things.  The following Tuesday, I did different things, as well.  This Tuesday illustrates the variety of things that one lawyer did on one random work day.  Other lawyers may do very different things.


6:30 a.m.     Awoke, turned on iPhone, checked e-mail

6:32 a.m.     Replied to e-mail from client regarding court time and location

6:35 a.m.     Replied to e-mail from client regarding need to reschedule office meeting

6:37 a.m.     Replied to e-mail from potential client to schedule office meeting

6:40 a.m.     Replied to e-mail from accountant regarding monthly bookkeeping

6:45 a.m.     Checked voicemails

6:50 a.m.     Prepared e-mail to paralegal regarding voicemail from client requesting status of case

6:57 a.m.     Prepared e-mail to paralegal regarding voicemail from potential client asking for return call

8:00 a.m.     Reviewed calendar for daily appointments

8:05 a.m.     Reviewed case file in preparation for bond hearing at 9:00 a.m.

8:25 a.m.     Office meeting with client’s family to discuss bond hearing procedure

8:55 a.m.     Arrived at courthouse for bond hearing

9:00 a.m.     Pre-hearing conference with client

9:08 a.m.     Calendar call

9:42 a.m.     Discussed bond issues with DA

10:13 a.m.   Discussed DA’s offer with client

10:30 a.m.   Discussed DA’s offer with client’s family

10:47 a.m.   Further discussion with DA about bond and counteroffer

10:55 a.m.   Bond hearing

11:27 a.m.    Post-hearing meeting with client to discuss release procedure

12:14 p.m.   Post-hearing meeting with client’s family to discuss release procedure

12:40 p.m.   Lunch

12:49 p.m.   Check e-mails, text messages, and voicemails

12:59 p.m.   Reply to e-mail from client regarding witness name and phone number

1:13 p.m.     Reply to e-mail from advertiser regarding renewal of phone book ad

1:16 p.m.     Reply to text from client requesting opinion on legality of warrantless search

1:31 p.m.     Reply to voicemail from client regarding status of case

1:47 p.m.     Read daily mail

1:49 p.m.     Dictated letter to client advising of hearing date and time

1:58 p.m.     Dictated letter to opposing counsel regarding convenience dates for deposition of my client

2:19 p.m.     Confirmed correct hearing date entered on office calendars

2:20 p.m.     Reviewed and analyzed discovery material from DA

3:01 p.m.     Dictated letter to client with copies of discovery material from DA

3:17 p.m.     Researched current law on maximum penalties for possession of Schedule I drug

3:39 p.m.     Phone conference with client to confirm time and location of bench trial

3:55 p.m.     In court for bench trial

4:36 p.m.     Post-trial conference with client and client’s family

4:54 p.m.     Prepared final letter to client

5:16 p.m.     Office meeting with potential client about arrest for DUI

6:07 p.m.     Prepared Fee Agreement and other initial file documents

6:14 p.m.     Processed credit card payment for attorney’s fee

6:19 p.m.     Prepared appeal of administrative driver’s license suspension

6:54 p.m.     Prepared e-mail to new client with copy of appeal

7:05 p.m.     Checked e-mail, text messages, and voicemails

7:13 p.m.     Replied to e-mail from client about status of case

7:21 p.m.     Replied to e-mail from client about inconsistencies in discovery material

7:38 p.m.     Replied to e-mail from client about scheduling conference call with parents to discuss strategy

7:45 p.m.     Replied to voicemail from potential client about probation revocation hearing

8:03 p.m.     Researched law on credit for restitution in civil case

8:30 p.m.     Replied to text from client about plea bargaining

And so on, and so on…


Do I Need A Lawyer?

What Does the Attorney’s Fee Cover?

What Is Arraignment?

Fear Of The Unknown: What Is The Outcome Going To Be?

By Troy Marsh